Skull Queen V 5.10c C2

Robert Fonda

I have to start this Trip Report out on a sad note. A rec.climber Tom Dundwiddie and Monika Eldridge died while climbing the Direct North Buttress of Cathedral Rock in Yosemite. While I did not personally know either Tom or Monika, I had serveral private email exchanges with Tom after my first blunder in Wall climbing. He enjoyed my trip report "Team Stooge Goes Wall Climbing". Tom only had encouragement and kind words to offer. My heart felt condonlences to their family and friends.

Thursday July 12, 2001

I arrived in the Valley around 10:00 PM knowing full well that I would never find a "legal" place to sleep. Hmmm..... A quick call to Karl Baba solved this problem in a flash. "You can crash in my trailer if you like". Score! Good old Karl, the patron saint of the Valley. Saint Karl, I like it! We spent about a half an hour chatting and I reminded him that he is always welcome to crash, shower, re-beer etc. at my place in Josh anytime. Good deeds need to be returned. Thanks Karl!

Friday July 13, 2001

After a good nights sleep in Karl's Cave I was off to meet my friend Carlos. The plan was to do something on the South Face of Washington Column. I had my mind set on either the South Face or Southern Man. While I was standing in the meadow checking out teams on El Cap, a tourist started chatting me up and told me about the death of two climbers who "fell off the top of El Capitan" the day before. I had to take this with a grain of salt considering the source. A few moments later two climbers who had wandered up and heard the conversation set the record straight. Two climbers did indeed fall to their deaths on the DNB (Direct North Buttress) of Middle Cathedral. This was very disturbing. News of a climbers death always gets my attention. A strong mix of emotions flooded through me. Sadness, fear, insecurity etc. I'm about to spend 2 or more days on a wall. I really would have rather of heard about this after we completed the route.

I finally track Carlos down and we begin to formulate a plan. Carlos has decided we are doing Skull Queen. Period. We will fix the first 2 pitches today and attempt to secure our place in line. Saturday we will blast. We sorted gear and humped the rack and ropes up to the base. Carlos led the first pitch in fine style, I led second pitch, the C1 corner. Kinda ackward, but fun. A number of Cam Hook moves made things much easier. Boy do I love Cam Hooks. Kinda sketchy to get used to, but once you realize they are bomber when properly placed, they are your best friends. At the beginning of pitch 3 we fixed a line, stashed the rack, and headed back to the Valley floor for Beer and food. The important things. We did the final packing. Off to bed.

Saturday July 14, 2001

Time to blast. I was feeling really lousy. I must have picked up some kinda bacterial fuzz. I was spewing water out both ends. I felt nauseous and had a mild headache. This is not good. I told Carlos of my predicament, he inquired, "What do you want to do, we really need to make a decision.". Fuck, I hate this. The hell with it, I'm not bailing out on this one, "we're going!". I am going to be miserable either way, so why not just tough it out?

Dinner Ledge

So off we trot to face our daemons. I stop from time to time to half puke and half choke. Carlos looks concerned. "If you feel that bad, I'll lead and you clean. Take it easy and don't trash your self.". Wise words indeed. Carlos jugs our first line and does the horrible haul, I follow. We jug the next pitch, retrieve the rack and line and start the third pitch to Dinner Ledge. Wow, this thing is a parking lot! No wonder people camp out here. Carlos starts Pitch 4, the Kor Roof. The wind has picked up considerably and his aiders are blowing up over his head. He clears the roof and makes the belay. I feel weak and awful. Oh well, here we are, there is no turning back. As I start cleaning the roof, the wind begins to really howl. It's very unnerving. As my aiders blow over my head getting tangled in everything, I start spinning around. Vertigo sets in and I start to feel very disoriented. Which way is up? I managed to get my foot on to the wall only to start spinning the other direction. I wasn't feeling so swell before, but now I was really miserable. I finally managed to get things back under control and finish cleaning the pitch. Carlos asked me how I was feeling, I responded with "Oh just ducky".

Our first little partnership epic occurred as I was preparing the bags for the haul. Carlos had setup the belay so the bags were on the opposite side of the next pitch. When I released the bags they would have caught my fixed line and dragged me along with them. I would have been hopelessly tangled in the lines. Not a pretty picture. It was a major hassle to jug above the bags and lean over to free them from the anchors. I was pissed! When I got to the belay I muttered an angry comment "You would do your next wall partner a great favor by rigging the belay properly so the bags are in line with the haul!". 

Carlos was not amused and retorted "Yeah, like I cluster fucked the belay just for you.". I saw what was happening and instantly put an end to it. "I'm sorry, the situation just scared me and I reacted poorly. Let's not fight over it.". That was that. We went right back to work and all was forgiven.

We made it to the top of Pitch 6 and set up our bivy for the night. I was starting to feel better. As tired as I was, my strength was returning. We ate dinner, and I piled down as much food as I could. Tomorrow was going to be a real long day. We spent a nice evening hanging out on our portable home and gazed out over the Valley floor, far far below.

Carlos at the second night's bivy

Sunday July 15, 2001
It's 6:30 AM and we are up eating breakfast and chatting up a storm. A good nights sleep has done wonders for me, but I must confess my lead head was finished. I really didn't feel confident at all in my abilities to lead any pitches. I told Carlos how I felt and he said "No problem. Let's just keep doing what we're doing and get off this thing before the end of the month.". This works for me. We had a good rhythm going and were making progress. At first I felt guilty for not doing my fair share of the leads, but after some discussion with Carlos I felt better and just let it go. One way or the other, we were getting up our first wall.

Me at the Second Night's bivy

High on Pitch 6

I have to say this, I have a tremendous respect for Carlos, he is a hell of a free climber and is very solid. I am probably the better aid climber, but boy can he free climb! I met Carlos down in Joshua Tree when I first moved there. He was working at Nomad Ventures and guiding. We hooked up and climbed together and got along famously. When he informed me that he was leaving town for the summer I thought I would not see him for several months. But in late June he called and asked me to do a wall with him. I accepted without question. I really like Carlos, he's a good egg!

As the day progressed we continued to make upward progress. Pitch after pitch went by. The mornings were hot, the afternoons cool but with very high winds. By the end of the second day we were poised at the bottom of Pitch 11. We set up camp and were trying to get our ledge leveled properly. Carlos and I proudly huddle over our handy work and decide it looks good. Carlos is the first to try it. He gingerly moves onto the ledge. Mr. Ledge seems to be content so Carlos commits his full weight. Whoooosh, out goes the ledge from under Carlos as he slips between the space on the wall. At first we both are silent with shock. I then ask "Are you OK?". "Yeah, holy shit, I didn't expect that." Once I saw that he was Ok, I couldn't help myself, I just burst out laughing. Once the excitement was over we drank a little whiskey and passed out.

Monday July 16, 2001

Summit day! We are up and packing gear. Carlos takes off and finishes the crux pitch of the route and drags up the bags. The last real pitch has a spot of 5.10c free climbing which Carlos climbs and yards through with no problem. I take the final 4th class pitch to the top. We are on the summit! I made a promise to myself that there would be no summit celebration until were back safely at the car and drinking beer. Now for the NDG (North Dome Gully). The NDG and Manzanita are both proof that Mother Nature has an evil sense of humor.
I for one am not amused. I have been dreading this part the whole way up the route. It was everything I imagined it to be. If you were just carrying a small pack with a light free rack, it would not be that huge a deal. With a grade V haul bag and an Atom Smasher filled to the brink, it's a whole other story. I am really surprised there are not more accidents and deaths on this thing. You have to be very careful and take your time. One wrong step and it's bye bye. We slowly plod our way down the gully and hit the climbers trail and make it to the bottom. We arrive at the car around 5:30 P.M. Off to the Village market for Beer. Life is good, we just completed our first wall. Now I can rejoice and revel in the past days adventures and accomplishments.

The dreaded North Dome Gully

Final Summary

There is alot I could say, ponder, and spray about. I could offer advice to others attempting to complete their first wall. In retrospect, you just have to go see for yourself. I will go back and do Skull Queen a second time and lead my share of the pitches. While cleaning, I didn't see anything I could not handle on lead. I learned allot about gear and rope management. I learned allot about myself. I found weakness I didn't know I had. I found strength and resolve I didn't know I had. This wall was a hell of an experience for me. I will never be the same person who started out just a few days ago. Sure, most of my former self exists, but I firmly believe that in some small way, I am a better person for persisting through a long and difficult personal journey.
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